When Nan Yeomans died in 2004 at 81, she wanted her modest estate—comprised primarily of artworks—to benefit the community that she felt had served as her family.
Co-executor Mary Ann Higgs explained Nan’s intentions to me one afternoon last week as we were sitting in the WAG surrounded by Nan’s artwork. One thousand dollars each would go to 10 organizations of which she had been a member, organizations as diverse as the Rideau Trail Association and the Kingston chapter of the Canadian Hearing Society. The balance would go to the Community Foundation of Kingston and Area (CFKA), who would establish a bursary in support of aspiring artists or artisans. In 2008 the Nan Yeomans Fund was set up to this end, with the CFKA as administrator. The recipient is chosen by the Kingston Arts Council. This year, the 11th year of the fund’s existence, the $2500 bursary will be awarded on December 16. The proceeds of the Gala for Nan, at the WAG on December 5, will be shared equally by the KSOA and the CFKA.
Nan Yeomans was a well-known and well-loved presence in the Kingston arts community. Her diminutive stature matched her modest personality, but belied the fierceness of her dedication to her artistic practice. When she arrived in Kingston in her mid-20s from her home on the farm north of the city, she attended summer courses and then evening courses at Queen’s, studying painting and drawing under André Biéler and Carl Schaefer. As an artist she worked in various media, but in 1953 her interest in printmaking blossomed. Subsequent courses at St. Lawrence College gave her access to presses, expensive but indispensable pieces of equipment. When the college closed, Nan followed the printing presses to the KSOA. Her artistic output, prodigious as it was, led to three solo exhibitions--at the Agnes, the Modern Fuel and the Kingston Frontenac Library--as well as submissions to fundraisers and arts festivals.
Aware of her successes (and also failures), Nan, without fanfare, considered herself better than the average hobby artist. In a 2004 video entitled Under My Shell, made by Val Westgate, former curator at the Agnes Jan Allen praises her “high level of accomplishment”. After Nan died, the Agnes bought her watercolours dating from 1949-1951.
Nan’s meticulous approach to everything served her well. To earn a living, she worked as a bookkeeper and accountant, sometimes offering her services pro bono to organizations of which she was a quiet and constant member. Nan understood the financial struggles of community groups, and artists in particular. In her own small apartment, her bedroom served as a studio while she slept on the couch, with only her beloved turtle Tommie for company.
When executor Mary Ann Higgs considered the format of the Gala for Nan fundraiser, one of several that have benefitted the Nan Yeomans Fund, she wanted to do it in a way that Nan would approve. Thus the gala supports the artistic community and offers the public the opportunity, included in the ticket price of $100, to get first pick from among Nan’s remaining framed pieces. Also on sale are matted and unmatted artworks, which, if purchased, include a $35 gift certificate for framing. Each attendee can bring one guest with the same ticket.
The Gala for Nan exhibition includes mixed media drawings, watercolours, etchings, collages and embossed images dating from the 1940s to the 1990s. They cover a wide range of subject matter—sometimes historical, sometimes realistic, sometimes whimsical. Also on offer during the event are wine, charcuterie and live music. The aforementioned video and a printmaking demonstration will run concurrently in the KSOA studios.
GALA FOR NAN takes place Thursday, December 5, from 5-8pm.
For more information about the Nan Yeomans Fund, and to view a selection of the artwork in the exhibition: nanslegacy.com
This month, once again, the WAG provides a venue for the work of printmakers with very different aesthetics.
As I look at the exhibition I’m struck by how every back wall dedicated to a single artist tells a story. Wendy Cain evokes sea- and landscapes by combining paper pulp printing with screen printing to produce textured, tonal images in black and white with distinct focal points. The stars of Rebecca Cowan’s drypoint prints are ordinary objects such as shoes and upholstered chairs. Margaret Bignell explores texture and movement in her monotypes with string and coarsely woven scraps of fabric. Barb Carr’s monotypes—contemplative landscapes—contrast sharply with those of Fanny Cecconi, which explode with colour. Closer to the front of the gallery Elizabeth Pulker’s series of six collages juxtaposes flat black with cut-out printed elements to create compositional variety.
While the WAG showcases framed prints by these and other artists—works that also include collographs, nature prints on fabric and relief prints—in the KSOA front studio I witness works in progress by some of the artists in the show. The Friday morning printmaking open studio is in full swing and five artists are spread around the room, working on ideas for monotypes and linocuts.
Someone has brought in a paper wasp’s nest, which Fanny finds intriguing. She also has her eye on a piece of raffia that could add interest to a small abstract print, which she has already given a number of passes through the press. Barbara Morrow (who has not participated in the current exhibition) is working with Softoleum, a form of lino. While Margaret, the studio co-ordinator, offers her suggestions, Barb gives me a synopsis of a technique she is enjoying—reductive linocut, also called Kamikaze linocut because the final plate, which supports the final colour (there can be as many as five press passes), is mostly cut away. As an aside, she tells me, “You know, the Softoleum is easy to work with but too soft to be put through the press; the paper has to be burnished.” Meanwhile, Jane Hamilton-Khaan is puzzling over rubber overlays that she will use for successive colour applications to create her monotype.
“J’adore!” pipes up Fanny, overcome with enthusiasm for the printmaking process. The atmosphere here is congenial and relaxed. The studio is a space for exchanging ideas, fixing accidents when they happen, trying new techniques and, of course, making use of the presses. Some of the artists in the WAG show have their own press, but for those who don’t, the printmaking open studio provides access to this large, expensive piece of equipment.
“The KSOA also has a printmaking archive,” Margaret reminds us. The archive acts as a resource for the student artists at the school. Margaret brings out an example of a drypoint and before long we are discussing the difference between a chop and a stamp, two forms of print identification, the former an embossing tool, the latter an inked tool.
Then a lively discussion ensues about the difference between a monoprint and a monotype. A monotype is unique. It begins with a smooth plate, usually Plexiglass, to which coloured inks have been applied with a roller. The plate may undergo successive press passes as new colours are added or scraped away, or as colours are blocked. The results can be unexpected. A monoprint, on the other hand, is pulled from a plate with a matrix or underlying image (like a linocut, or woodcut, or etching) that allows the printmaker to be faithful to the image with each pass. But, if the artist decides to vary the colours, a series using the same image can be created. Each print is still a monoprint.
“I think I’ve got it straight,” says Fanny while Margaret goes back to her spot at the table to continue work on a monotype she started earlier.
Kingston Printmakers are Margaret Bignell, Wendy Cain, Barb Carr, Fanny Cecconi, Rebecca Cowan, Kym Fenlon-Spazuk, Judith Gould, Jane Hamilton-Khaan and Elizabeth Pulker.
Hot Off the Press continues until Sunday, November 24, with a reception on that day from 2 to 4pm.
On a beautiful October afternoon several students in Nancy Steele’s Plein Air Painting class gather at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour. The sun is sparkling on the ripples in the water, and there’s a light breeze, not too cold. The first challenge of painting outdoors? Weather (check!). While they bask in the sun waiting for the others to arrive, Nancy talks to her students about the wispy clouds that striate the sky. “You can create that smoky swipe with complementary colours—orange and blue, or even better, purple and yellow.” She then encourages consideration of how the clouds change lower on the horizon. Plein air, a kind of alla prima (meaning “first pass”) painting, requires astute observation.
Challenge number 3 (after parking—check!) gets down to the nitty-gritty: finding a location free of obstacles that artists can commit to for a period of time. As Nancy and I scout out possibilities, she tells me that she lets what nabs her dictate where she might set up. We turn a corner away from the shore when she exclaims, “Look at that! That’s not so bad. “ What she is searching for is a vista, lights and darks, and colour. “That red door is screaming to be painted!”
Nancy, who works in oil, will frame a scene with her hands, then begin a painting by making directional lines in ultramarine and burnt umber, using a dry brush. At this stage she is creating a scaffolding for what she sees (but not the sky, which is constantly changing). Next she will lay on a wash—in effect an under painting—to give shape to the large masses, all the while wiping away paint until she is left with mid-tones.
Form and structure underpin a good plein air painting, stresses Nancy. Not surprisingly, she began her art practice as a potter and then turned to making jewellery and sculptural boxes. She started painting in the 1990s.
As Nancy walks around to offer her students advice, her comments cover a range of ideas, from achieving proportion to refining composition and creating depth. She uses words like direction, relationship, geometry, block, mass, shape, layers.
In her own work Nancy exploits these same ideas while searching for a point of interest. She observes and works through a painting, letting the information grow until she finds her way into a scene. “The focal point shifts,” she concedes.
A couple of Nancy’s students, who agree that working outdoors is a bonus, enjoy the challenge of painting a real scene that is ultimately not static. “Capturing a moment” is how they describe the task, which must be completed in the first pass. Not all student artists find the task to their liking, however. Sky and shadows change too quickly.
When not outside because of inclement weather, Nancy encourages her students to see interesting compositional opportunities in the surrounding arrangements in the KSOA studio-- dishes in the sink, for example, or light and dark patterns on the printmaking machines. This course comprises 10 classes, but students have the option of taking only five, and they can use any paint medium. Being indoors obviates a further challenge, that of setting up tools and easel for comfort and utility under outdoor conditions.
“What is the most difficult aspect of plein air painting?” I ask Nancy. Interestingly, she focuses on two that could equally well be roadblocks in any style of painting. The first involves creating a palette that works. Instead of putting random small dabs of all colours on a water-resistant surface (Plexiglass works well en plein air), Nancy advises organizing colours with cool and warm and light and dark in mind. Just as orderly should be the artistic process, which Nancy breaks down so the emphasis is on only a few elements at a time, in a particular sequence. “Humans are trained to pick up detail in order to be ready for fight or flight. The artist has to discover how to hold detail until the end.”
In September the KSOA offered local artists another opportunity to try their hand at (or continue their practice of) plein air painting during an annual weekend called Paint the Town, which this year took place in Barriefield. Nancy, for her part, is offering an alla prima portrait painting workshop the weekend of October 19-20.
PLEIN AIR INSIDE AND OUT WITH NANCY STEELE ends on November 20.
In this, its 30th year of exhibiting, the Organization of Kingston Women Artists (OKWA)
says that when it comes to public exhibition space, size does matter. “RESTRICTED in size” is the title of this month’s show at the WAG, which accommodates 26 works by OKWA members in its relatively small space. To make a point, artists were limited to submitting pieces no wider than 18”, but there were no restrictions on height.
“How do we respond when we have restrictions,” Mieke Van Geest, Co-President of OKWA, asks rhetorically. And then she affirms, “The exhibition is an example of artists’ creativity in response to imposed constraints.” Small plaques with artists’ statements accompany the artwork and, in reading each one, I learn that “restrictions” have been interpreted and expressed in many ways. For example, Carolyn Marshall, in Shhh! Quiet!, considers the auditory restriction of a visual medium, while Mary Peppard has picked up the theme of censorship as restriction in Fire! Fire! Meanwhile, Donna Brown, in Awakening, has self-imposed restrictions on colour and medium. The clay vessel fashioned by Sue Lyon (Limited Liberty) is, by definition, a restriction on its contents.
Some artists are physically restricted by a small studio where they produce only small works, and Sally Milne (Notre Dame and Chimney Pots), who works for part of the year in Paris, has transport restrictions for her canvases. Michele Reid, whose painting Confined is one of the taller pieces in the show, points to the challenge of verticality for landscape painters.
Peggy Morley (Cornwall Beach IV) and Jane Derby (Study) both agree that size restrictions are not always negative. “Working small is often a freeing experience,” writes Peggy. Jane writes that starting small is a good way to explore new ideas. And Donna, mentioned above, discovered that having fewer options makes for a more relaxing creative experience. I personally enjoyed the intimacy I felt in stepping closer to engage with the smallest of the works in this exhibition.
“But size does make a difference,” concludes Mieke, whose photograph entitled Rainy Night at Morrison’s could be reproduced in a larger size, she points out, with a vastly different impact. “Restrictions discourage full artistic expression.” And space is the issue.
For the last four years OKWA has made use of the new Tett Centre, a public space that suits the group’s needs, but has become prohibitively expensive in terms of rental and insurance costs. These, coupled with administrative complications, propelled OKWA to look for an alternative this year. Commercial galleries were not an option since they support their preferred stable of artists, while the Agnes and the Union Gallery operate with mandates that exclude organizations such as OKWA. “We need a downtown public space funded by the municipality,” maintains Mieke. She looks to the John Parrott Gallery in Belleville as a shining example.
With 13 members, OKWA was founded in 1989 at the tail end of the second wave of feminism. According to co-founder Jocelyn Purdie, there had been advances in women’s rights and freedoms, but the art world was one of many arenas that did not offer an equitable playing field. Now numbering 55, members are accepted by juried application. The group organizes workshops and art talks, and funds scholarships for young artists.
“Is OKWA still relevant today as a women-only organization?” I ask Mieke. “Members like it, and it works,” is her answer, but then she elaborates by saying many women still don’t have the confidence to push into the art world. OKWA provides a forum for mutual support. And provides exposure for women artists by mounting annual exhibitions.
The issue of gallery space is first and foremost on the minds of OKWA board members today. Michèle La Rose (Tribute to Van Gogh), sums up the situation in her statement: “Kingston could do much better."
RESTRICTED in size continues until October 27 with an opening reception on Sunday, October 6, 2-4pm.
Approach the work of Andrée Levesque with calm attentiveness, but be prepared to move as you search for an image in the larger pieces in the artist’s solo show at the WAG this month.
Andrée has turned drawing into a ritual in her art practice. She gets up at 5 a.m. every morning and completes one drawing in her sketchbook using sparse but precise black lines to define her subject. Her daily creations, which are reminiscent of Picasso’s deceptively simple line drawings, depict actual scenes, but more often come from her subconscious memories of human figures.
For this exhibition Andrée has chosen to show a sampling of her pen and ink line drawings of the past year. Some are hung in unadorned black frames, or hung unframed and mounted behind Plexiglass, simple presentations that do not detract from their content. Others, to which colour has been added, are mounted in an even more Spartan fashion on Bristol boards. Andrée decided to use a new medium—pastel—on the latter drawings, working with the chalk like a sculptor in a very tactile way to define the surface of the shapes, or letting her movements create detail spontaneously. In them she has dispensed with her usual colour palette of neutrals, blue and sunrise pink to embrace the entire colour spectrum.
Moving into riskier territory are the medium and large Plexiglass pieces on display. In looking for new modes of expression Andrée has turned to engraving. Here’s how she describes these works: “It’s not like stained glass. It’s just lines filled with colour.” In addition, Andrée has made a transparent black backing that allows the easels, on which some of the pieces are placed, to be seen as shadows. These works are meant to interact with walls, windows, whatever is behind or around. To see the engraved images on the Plexiglass surface, viewers must move from side to side and up and down, searching for areas that capture the light.
The Zen Place runs from September 4 to September 29 with an opening reception on September 19, 5-7 p.m..
ART SAFARI at the KSOA
Safari, n. – an exploration, an enriching experience, an adventure.
The KSOA Art Safari series is given over the course of ten weeks by different instructors who focus on a variety of media. On the last Wednesday of May, eight student artists found themselves in Fanny Cecconi’s mixed media abstraction class, the fifth in the series. Fanny also taught the acrylic abstraction class in Week One.
A native of Terrebonne (north of Montreal), Fanny has a B.A. from UQO (l’Université du Québec en Outaouais) in Art and Design, with a specialization in cartooning. She also took teacher training in her home province. Before coming to Kingston she taught visual arts to, among others, military families in Petawawa. Her courses at the KSOA have also been offered in French.
Abstraction, n. – freedom from representational qualities in art.
Fanny would say abstraction is a translation of reality, one that allows the artist to convey an emotion or a reaction. She stresses the importance of formal elements such as line, form, colour and texture. As a warm-up in this class she gives students cut-out shapes to play with as she explains how these compositional elements can be positioned to achieve depth, movement, balance and tension.
Mixed media, n.pl. – an artwork in which more than one medium or material has been employed.
In Fanny’s class mixed media include markers, acrylic paints--including liquid acrylic paints--as well as other objects such as feathers, shells and beads, which Fanny has assembled to inspire creativity in her students. Also at their disposal are black and white photocopies of an image coated with acrylic gel medium. After a quick lesson in image transfer, students set to work on soaking the paper and then vigorously rubbing it off to reveal the image embedded in the transparent gel layer. “It’s messy,” says Fanny, “but that’s part of the training.”
What drew participants to the Art Safari series? Sheila was familiar with watercolours, but had never tried acrylics. Don wanted to learn new skills as therapy after a head injury. Lucy, a recent graduate from McGill, missed the visual arts and wanted to try different techniques. Suzanne, an elementary school teacher, recognized that Fanny’s class provided her with good ideas for art activities that she could use in her own classroom, but she also welcomed the no-pressure aspect of the class. The emphasis was on process, not producing.
On Wednesday, June 19, the Art Safari series ended with an oil painting class given by Gaetanne Lavoie. The week before, she had also taught the series drawing class.
Gaetanne grew up in a French-speaking neighbourhood of Cornwall. Aside from three years in Montreal, she spent the rest of her adult life in cities in Ontario and the U.S., specifically New York, where she studied, taught and practiced her art. Now, back in Ontario, she teaches several courses throughout the year at the KSOA, courses that could be offered in French.
Oil paint, n. – It’s like butter, according to Gaetanne. “The colours are so brilliant that when I apply oil paint I can feel it in my body.”
Before the Wednesday class starts, Gaetanne instructs me about her chosen medium. To change the viscosity of oil paint, Liquin or solvent can be added as thinners, which is useful for underpainting. (In her class, Gaetanne uses an odourless solvent.) The addition of linseed oil, on the other hand, thickens the paint to a creamier texture, but the more oil is added, the longer the paint takes to dry. In fact, to become completely dry can take six months.
In this oil painting class Gaetanne guides her students along as they recreate a still life by Dik Lui. The students work from a colour photocopy as she gives a step-by-step demo of the process. She begins with the violet background—a blend of ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and white. Next she adds Liquin to blue to create a thin, transparent paint that she uses to sketch the shapes of the objects and their cast shadows. Gradually, as colours are applied, the painting evolves to reveal the flowers, vase, apple and grapes in their three-dimensional forms. While she is working, she gives tips and suggestions regarding palettes, brushes, colours and technique. She also regularly circulates around the room to offer encouragement.
Don, who has attended all eight Art Safari sessions, is looking forward to seeing the results of his efforts in this class. He marvels at the vibrancy of the colours of oil paint, not only from the tube, but also those obtained by mixing. The series has helped him relax his mind, he maintains. Shelley simply enjoys working in oil, while Carolyn, a professional artist whose chosen medium is acrylic, concedes that mastering oil painting techniques is a challenge. But if she hadn’t taken the class, she would never have had the opportunity to use this centuries-old medium.
ART SAFARI au KSOA
La définition de safari? C’est en même temps une exploration, un enrichissement et une aventure. La série Art Safari comprend huit sessions, chacune concentrée sur un moyen d’expression artistique particulier, et donnée par une artiste différente. Le dernier mercredi de mai, huit étudiants artistes se sont présentés au cours d’abstraction mixed media de Fanny Cecconi, le cinquième cours. Ouverte à tous les médias, Fanny enseigne aussi le premier cours, la peinture à l’acrylique.
Originaire de Terrebonne au Québec, Fanny a un baccalauréat de l’Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) en Arts et design, profil bande dessinée, et a suivi quelques cours en enseignement. Avant d’arriver à Kingston, elle a mené des ateliers d’arts visuels destinés aux familles militaires à Petawawa, entre autres. Étant donné qu’elle est bilingue, ses cours au KSOA peuvent être offerts en français, s’il y a assez de participants intéressés.
La session Art Safari du 29 mai, en anglais, commence par une question. Qu’est-ce que l’abstraction? Ce n’est pas une image venant du domaine de la réalité. D’après Fanny, il s’agit plutôt d’une traduction de la réalité. On met sur la toile ce qu’on voit dans le but de transmettre une émotion ou une réaction. On joue avec des lignes, des formes, des couleurs et des textures. Fanny nous donne quelques exercices de réchauffement qui nous apprennent à créer du mouvement, de la profondeur, de l’équilibre et de la tension.
Afin de nous familiariser avec les possibilités des techniques mixtes, Fanny a ramassé divers matériaux, tels que des plumes, des coquilles et des perles, aussi bien que des couteaux et des éponges—objets et outils intéressants pour créer de la texture. En plus des feutres, des peintures acryliques et des brosses, nous avons à notre disposition de la peinture acrylique liquide, qu’on fait couler sur la surface d’une toile en manipulant la position du support. Finalement, Fanny nous montre comment transférer une image photocopiée au moyen d’un médium gel acrylique. Son objectif dans la salle de classe, c’est d’encourager la créativité.
Une fois au travail, les étudiant(e)s se servent de tous les outils pour peindre, même leurs propres doigts. Intrigués par le transfert de l’image imprimée en noir et blanc, tous frottent avec assiduité le papier pour obtenir la peau de gel transparente qu’ils peuvent ensuite coller à la toile. “It’s messy!” constate Fanny. Mais ça fait partie de l’entraînement.
Pourquoi participer à la série Art Safari? Les étudiant(e)s répondent: Sheila, qui travaille avec des aquarelles, veut essayer une technique différente. Don désire développer ses habiletés après un traumatisme crânien. Quant à Lucy, récemment diplômée de l’Université McGill, les arts visuels lui manquent, et elle a envie de mettre à l’essai des médias variés. Quant à Suzanne, enseignante au primaire, elle trouve certaines activités appropriées pour ses propres élèves. Elle apprécie beaucoup l’atmosphère décontractée des cours et se concentre sur le processus au lieu de la production.
Le mercredi 19 juin, Gaetanne Lavoie a enseigné la peinture à l’huile, la derniére session d’Art Safari. Comme Fanny, elle s’est impliquée fortement dans la série. La semaine précédente, elle avait donné le cours de dessin.
Gaetanne a grandi dans un quartier francophone de Cornwall. Elle a passé la majorité de sa vie d’adulte dans des villes anglophones en Ontario et aux États-Unis, en particulier à New York, où elle a fait ses études et a pratiqué son métier d’artiste. De retour à Kingston, elle enseigne au KSOA tout au long de l’année plusieurs cours en dessin et en peinture qui peuvent être offerts en français.
Je suis arrivée un quart d’heure avant le début de la dernière session Art Safari pour parler avec Gaetanne au sujet de la peinture à l’huile, son medium préféré. “L’huile, c’est comme du beurre,” m’a-t-elle expliqué. “Et les couleurs si brillantes--quand je les applique, je les sens dans le corps.” Elle continue sur un plan plus pratique. On peut ajouter à la peinture à l’huile des médiums tels que le Liquin ou le solvant, qui la rendent plus transparente, un état qui convient pour peindre des sous-couches, par exemple. (En passant, dans la salle de classe, Gaetanne utilise seulement du solvant sans odeur nocive.) Par contre, l’addition de l’huile de lin sert à épaissir la peinture et à la rendre plus crémeuse. Cependant, plus on ajoute de l’huile, plus la peinture tarde à sécher. En fait, sécher complètement, cela peut prendre six mois.
“Connais-tu l’origine du mot vernissage?” m’a demandé Gaetanne. Vers la fin du 19e siècle, les artistes invités à exposer leurs oeuvres au Salon de Paris se rencontraient six mois après qu’ils avaient complété leurs peintures pour aborder la dernière étape, soit l’application du vernis.
En guise d’introduction à la peinture à l’huile, Gaetanne guide ses étudiant(e)s artistes dans la création d’une nature morte d’après le peintre Dik Lui. Ils travaillent à partir d’une photocopie en couleur, mais Gaetanne démontre étape par étape le processus. Elle commence par le violet de l’arrière-plan, une mélange de bleu ultramarin, rouge alizarin et blanc. Puis elle se sert du Liquin pour donner une fluidité à la peinture bleue, la couleur avec laquelle elle esquisse les formes et les ombres portées de l’avant-plan. La peinture évolue jusqu’à ce que les fleurs, le vase, la pomme et les raisins se manifestent en couleur et en tridimensionnalité. Pendant qu’elle travaille, Gaetanne donne des conseils sur des palettes, des brosses, des couleurs et des techniques. Et elle circule dans la classe pour encourager les apprenant(e)s ou leur offrir des suggestions.
Don, qui a suivi les huit cours d’Art Safari, me dit qu’il a hâte de voir le résultat de ses efforts dans cette classe. Il aime beaucoup les couleurs vives de la peinture à l’huile. En général, la série lui a offert une façon de se reposer l’esprit. Shelley constate qu’elle s’amuse dans ce cours, tandis que Carolyn, artiste professionelle qui crée ses oeuvres en peinture acrylique, estime qu’elle éprouve de la difficulté à maitriser les techniques de peinture à l’huile. Mais si elle n’avait pas assisté au cours, elle n’aurait jamais connu ce moyen d’expression ancien.
In the last class of her fall course, Debbie Ottman-Smith set up a complicated still life, then, referring to a vibrant painting of objects outlined in yellow, she described what the day’s project was all about.
Debbie has been teaching acrylic painting at the KSOA since 2000. A successful portrait artist, she graduated from the St. Lawrence College art program in 1978 with honours and a major in painting. She considers herself a “normal”, not “gifted” painter, and when she conceived a title for her course, she considered “If I Can Do It, Anybody Can”. But the title was already copyrighted. So she settled on “Anyone Can Paint & I’ll Prove It!” Debbie good-naturedly but determinedly smacked her fist into her hand as she said this. Because she has proved it. In her 19 years at the school, after teaching almost 500 students, there have been only 2 or 3 deserters. “I keep teaching because the rewards are so great,” she said. As her students discover and nurture their painting skills, she explained, they build confidence on many levels, including outside of the classroom.
Helen MacIntyre was one of the student artists in this class. She admitted that some days during the course, while experiencing beginner’s frustration, she thought she would prove Debbie wrong in her choice of title. Ultimately, however, she learned a great deal from Debbie’s practical tips about paint and technique. Helen’s painting entitled Time for Reflection (after American artist Christina Dowdy), pictured here, is a testament to her progress. During this last class she was fully engaged in the Yellow Line project.
Debbie told me that her students have the opportunity to work on five projects during the 10-week course. The first, which she calls Grisaille, involves value studies and an introduction to the colour wheel, as well as to under painting and glazing. The second, Learning Tree, allows students to explore different painting techniques before they move on to the third, Copy Cat, which encourages students to emulate their favourite artist. Debbie calls this one an apprenticeship. Project Four, called Textured Canvas, involves the creation of faux impasto. And then we come to the final project, Yellow Line*.
Serving as a teaching tool is Debbie’s still life called My Little Corner, composed of objects that are important to her—among them an apple (for the teacher that she is), a plant in a basket (from her uncle’s funeral), a heart-shaped candy dish (indicating a new beau) and, of course, a tin of paintbrushes. The colourful objects and luminous yellow outlines give the piece a tropical look, full of energy, magical, almost like stained glass. As Debbie described the
painting and how the afternoon would unfold, she punctuated her instructions with “Does that make sense?” or “Are you with me?”
Shelagh McDonald was in Debbie’s class for the second time and, although she was working on her own projects in oil, Yellow Line intrigued her enough to participate again this time around. She told me she enjoys working at her own pace alongside like-minded individuals. Debbie, who sends the class copious handouts via email, acted as her advisor in class and in the virtual world.
In this acrylic painting course Debbie aims to teach what is relevant and what will allow student artists to continue on their own. She explained further: “I’ve taken all of my own good and bad experiences with professors, made sure I emulate the good ones and leave out the bad.”
As we began our detailed yellow contour painting, Debbie encouraged us to feel relaxed with the brush. And as we started adding colour intuitively, she reminded us, “Don’t listen to spouses or friends when you’re making art. Always please yourself.”
*adapted from an exercise in Betsy Dillard Stroud's book, Painting From the Inside Out.
Anyone Can Paint & I’ll Prove It! is being offered again starting Sept. 16, 2019.
Details and registration.
Four women, members of the Rideau Lakes Artists’ Association, have come together to show their work at the WAG this month. They first discovered their shared passion when they joined “Local Colours”, a small community of artists who paint together once a week in Perth.
Dawn Fortin, the founding member of the splinter group “Four Brushes”, works in watercolour, liquid acrylic and batik. During the hanging of the Four Brushes Fine Art Show she spoke to me about her practice, in particular her love of batik. Because the process involves adding layers of wax, one for each colour, the final result is obscured until the wax is ironed off. “I like surprises,” said Dawn. Working with liquid acrylic offers more opportunities for surprises, one of the reasons she has also chosen this medium.
Barbara Jordan, who runs a photography and graphic design business, Bark Productions Inc. (barkinc.com), not surprisingly creates punchy, graphic images in acrylic. Her favourite painting in this show is entitled Future Past—a large, intriguing, somewhat haunting depiction of the rusting hulks of sea forts built at the mouth of the Thames River during WW2 to protect the city of London. Barbara also works in batik, which she describes as “fun” because mistakes—unintended blobs of wax—can become features. As a graphic artist who can’t embark on a project without a plan, she welcomes a medium that allows her the freedom to change and adapt an image.
Like Barbara and Dawn, Christine Martin has chosen batik as one of her preferred mediums. She likens it to drawing, but with hot wax, and she approaches dyes in the same way as she does watercolours, namely in a painterly fashion. She uses silk, canvas and waffle cotton as supports. Christine also paints with alcohol inks that flow, wet on wet, like the dyes in batik. In this show she has included ink paintings on tile and on smooth-surfaced Yupo paper.
Inspired by sunlight, shadows and colours, Linda Svarckopf makes representational as well as abstract paintings in acrylics. Sign of Spring depicts two swans, harbingers of a season that reminds Linda of her childhood in the Long Point area of Lake Erie, a migratory route for many birds and a favourite stop for bird watchers. Her favourite painting, Red Koi Fish, has swirling shapes emerging from a textured vibrant red background. What appeals to Linda is the movement and the vitality of the sinuous koi.
Four Brushes Fine Art Show runs from July 31 to August 25 with an opening reception on August 11, 1-4pm.
At last Saturday’s Juried Exhibition and Sale reception, awards were given out to 13 artists, among them nine Honourable Mentions (see the KSOA site for these).
First prize went to Paula Whyle for her acrylic painting entitled Clara. One of the judges commented: “This painting moves beyond simple representation … it demands an interpretation and therefore engages the observer. The result is pure enjoyment.” The First Prize was presented by Mike Scrannage who, along with his wife Karen Charlton, has been a long-time supporter of the KSOA.
I asked Paula (pictured left, along with event organizer Margaret Brackley) who inspired her painting. “Well,” she answered, “many of my friends’ mothers are now in their 90s. I wanted to do a series of portraits that highlighted real character traits—anger, gruffness, happiness. Clara is my mother.” And what traits does she express, I wanted to know. “Sadness,” came the unexpected reply. “And anxiety. But she hides it well.” Indeed. Her tuft of textured white hair flying off the canvas suggests dynamism, while her serene face expresses a kind of knowingness. Black contour lines arc and join in the body, and across the face they meander suggesting wrinkles, but ultimately the figure appears ageless.
Linda Coulter was awarded Second Prize for her hand-stitched textile landscape. From one of the judges: “I can feel the gentle breeze on my arms and smell the delicious rain that must have recently fallen on this wild piece of land. Spring Evening is a textured landscape I would want to spend some time in.”
Third prize was awarded to Carolyn Huff-Winters for King of the Mountain, a large charcoal and acrylic piece. One of the judges wrote: “A dramatic work both in size and in subject matter … a nice balance between subject and reflection (or roots) … drawn and painted in a very free, yet controlled, style.”
Leo Jonker won Special Mention for his portrait of Polar Man, a Kingston fixture and “a dedicated super hero. The shift from a white and black ‘costume’ to blue is intriguing … this colour reflects his gleaming and mischievous cobalt eyes. The intense gaze and the half-smile give us a glimpse into the subject … he knows who he is!”
And the winners are … Well, no, I can’t reveal the outcome of Monday afternoon’s judging before the WAG holds this year’s juried exhibition reception on July 6. I can, however, reveal that our three judges—Shannon Brown, Ron Pickering and Raymond Vos—deliberated for three hours to choose 65 artworks from 152 submissions by 73 artists. The submitted works, in all sizes, included paintings, monoprints, pastels, fibre art and mixed media.
See below for some sneak peaks of the works in the show!
Shannon Brown, Program Coordinator at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, has 20 years of experience as an arts educator. As an internationally exhibited artist she is currently working on a series called Portals—visionary art that she describes as modern surrealism. She is also a producer of documentary films that have been broadcast internationally. Intuition played a large role in Shannon’s first picks at the beginning of the afternoon when the submitted pieces were positioned in the back room of the KSOA and around the gallery.
Raymond Vos, the owner and curator of Gallery Raymond, which represents about 20 artists, agreed that he placed his first dots on pieces that jumped out at him. Raymond, a photographer who has been a judge in a number of competitions, concentrates on shooting in Kenya, where he has started a charity. As a judge he considers each artwork on its own merits. He called the process of judging “engaging”, and Round Two, when pieces with one or two or no dots were presented individually to the trio of judges, he categorized as “a warm-up”. Indeed, judges were beginning to solidify their earlier first choices, sometimes changing their minds.
Ron Pickering took into account size and technique as he made his picks. A watercolour artist, he taught at the KSOA for 10 years during the school’s early days. Today he teaches at Loyalist and practises his art almost every day. He admitted that his representational approach to painting affects the way he sees art. In addition, bringing some of the artworks into the well-lit gallery in Round Two, he maintained, led him to revise his opinions.
Shannon also commented that different lighting and seeing works at different levels (on the floor vs. held at eye level) influenced her decisions. Raymond concurred. All three judges agreed that hearing one another’s comments made them think hard about their choices.
Round Three involved using stars to triage the three-dot pieces in order to determine the winners. This was when the friendly tussle started. It went something like this: persuasion, deliberation, analysis, negotiation, winnowing, dissension, deadlock. Six pieces needed to become four. Out came paper and pencil to allow each judge to note his or her rankings. Finally, compromise and agreement.
Round Four, by comparison, was easy. All three-star picks became Honourable Mentions. Ron Pickering summed up the entire show when he told me, “The quality of the work is really good!”
The KSOA Annual Juried Exhibition and Sale runs from July 2-28 with a reception and awards presentation on July 6 from 2-5 p.m. Awards will be presented at 3 p.m.